Tag Archives: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Dithyrambs of Dionysus

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dithyrambs of Dionysus [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, trans. R J Hollingdale.

Nietzsche Hollingdale Dithyrambs of Dionysus

Dionysos-Dithyramben is a set of nine poems revised, written, and collected by Nietzsche during and after the composition of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and they are thus one of the “Werke des Zusammenbruchs” from the close of his writing career. They were dismissed by Aaron Ridley from his edition of all the other “Werke des Zusammenbruchs” (i.e. The Anti-ChristEcce HomoTwilight of the IdolsThe Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche contra Wagner) as “a collection of poems whose absence is not to be regretted.” It’s just as well that snotty editor forced me to acquire the Dithyrambs in a separate volume, since the bilingual presentation here — while at odds with the larger project of the Cambridge University Press series of Nietzsche’s works in English translation, in which Ridley’s edition stands — is essential for full appreciation of the poetry.

In the role of translator, R.J. Hollingdale is impressively accurate, but he is more intent on the semantic content of the verse than its poetic form. For example, he sacrifices meter, line emphasis, and some end-rhyme in this penultimate stanza of “Die Wüste wächst: weh dem, der Wüsten birgt . . .”:

Die Wüste wächst: weh dem, der Wüsten birgt!
Stein knirscht an Stein, die Wüste schlingt und würgt.
Der ungeheure Tod blickt glühend braun
und kaut –, sein Leben ist sein Kaun . . .

It is rendered thus by Hollingdale:

“The desert grows: woe to him who harbours deserts!
Stone grates on stone, the desert swallows down.
And death that chews, whose life is chewing,
gazes upon it, monstrous, glowing brown . . .” (39)

Hollingdale was one of the great 20th-century anglophone champions of Nietzsche, and I take his notes to reflect a conservative, establishment strain in Nietzsche scholarship. The introduction is a helpful, if brief, overview of Nietzsche’s work as a poet and its relationship to his philosophical output.

Hollingdale’s remarks on the individual poems emphasize the autobiographical dimensions of the poems, somewhat to the exclusion (I thought) of their literary value to readers. On the biographical front, he insists (in 1984) that the syphilitic genesis of Nietzsche’s madness is a fully established fact (87-8), although I have read persuasive arguments by Siegfried Mandel (1988) and Geoff Waite (1996) questioning that allegation, and in the case of the latter challenging its supporting narrative assumption of Nietzsche’s heterosexuality. 

The nine poems are really gorgeous. Although three of them, with slight alterations, also appear in Thus Spake Zarathustra, I found them more powerful here, and thus I was inclined to agree with Hollingdale that “they were inserted [in Thus Spake Zarathustra] capriciously and by force” (85). The significance of “Klage der Ariadne,” for example is almost inverted in the context of the Dithyrambs, and it was so affecting for me, that it may serve as the touchstone of a new ceremony in my private canon of ritual. This slender volume is a treasure.

The Vindication of Nietzsche

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Vindication of Nietzsche [Amazon, Weiser Antiquarian, Abebooks, Hermetic Library] by Aleister Crowley.

Crowley The Vindication of Nietzsche

To a casual reader, this reprint of Crowley’s essay is a little bewildering: there’s hardly anything about Nietzsche in it, other than a brief exoneration of him from the charge of being “German.” The reader’s familiarity with Nietzsche is overtly assumed. For the most part, the matter of the article consists of vituperation against “English cant and hypocrisy” (the “English” was conspicuously redacted in the original printing during WWI, and quietly ignored in reprints) and long quotes from the holy books of Thelema and Crowley’s The World’s Tragedy. But these, you see, vindicate Nietzsche as prophet.

The circumstances of the war show Britain at a disadvantage because the Germans are using Nietzsche to good effect. (They were issuing copies of Zarathustra to their soldiers, among other things.) Meanwhile, Britain has comparable–nay, superior!–resources in Darwin and Swinburne, but these are pent up in the “thinking classes,” while “prudery” dictates the widespread rejection of the truths that they and Nietzsche offer.

But “even in England” Nietzsche’s true agenda is coming to fruition in a “New Religion” illustrated by passages from The Book of the Law. Although Crowley elsewhere described Anna Kingsford as the Baptizer John anticipating his Thelemic movement, in this essay Nietzsche serves as “the dawn-star” to herald a “son of man to be a Sun of men.” The latter is of course Aleister Crowley the Thelemic “Apollo … Antichrist … Saviour of the Earth!” 

I’ll drink to that, though I doubt Nietzsche would. It’s impressive how well the Magician of Thus Spake Zarathustra Part IV resembles Crowley. His incantation to the “unknown god” correlates richly with Crowley’s own doctrine of the Holy Guardian Angel. Nietzsche’s Magician was probably modeled on Wagner, but in any case, he’s merely one of the “higher men” who are bridges to the overman: roads to be trodden on, not a goal to attain, and certainly less far-seeing than Zarathustra himself.

As Borges remarked of Kafka, “the fact is that every writer creates his own precursors.” This is especially the case when the precursor was already writing in an anticipatory, proleptic manner. After studying Crowley’s work (even with the omission of the pertinent “Antecedents of Thelema” essay and The Vindication of Nietzsche), a reader will no longer perceive Rabelais and Nietzsche in their troglodytic shadow-forms.

By instancing his own work as the fulfillment of that which was to come, a writer exerts a causal effect on the past, he wills backward in the phrase of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Predictably, more recent writers have attempted to create Aleister Crowley as their precursor, but none have had the sort of success that he did (on multiple channels!) with that operation.

The Dionysian Vision of the World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dionysian Vision of the World by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, trans. Ira J Allen, introduction by Friedrich Ulfers.

Nietzsche Allen Ulfers The Dionysian Vision of the World

Die dionysische Weltanschauung” is an 1870 essay by Nietzsche, here translated by Ira J. Allen on the basis of the text published in 1928. Portions of it were incorporated wholesale into Nietzsche’s 1872 first book The Birth of Tragedy, and there are elements in it that foreshadow his later works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I had expected that it might be more conventionally philological, a work of mere classicist erudition, but it already shows Nietzsche attempting to break with mainstream notions of language and psychology, and responding to Hegel and Schopenhauer regarding the nature of the Will and its relationship to things evident and existent.

The essay develops into a tight orbit around the notion of Ton (“tone,” tonos, etc.), carefully kept in view by the translator in his translation and notes alike. This edition uses s p a c i n g for emphasis, rather than bold or italics, as did the original text, and Allen relates this feature to the sense of “stretching” in tonos. The emphasis on the “Dionysian demand” of music (50) was doubtless related to Nietzsche’s involvement at the time with Richard and Cosima Wagner, and was further developed in The Birth of Tragedy.

Nietzsche’s strident philhellenism in this essay made an interesting contrast with another text I happened to read during the same interval: the prologue to Blake’s Milton, which conspicuously sides with Jerusalem over Athens. Of course, Blake was championing the spirit of prophecy in creative originality over against the derivative neo-classicism of his contemporaries. One might legitimately ascribe to Nietzsche a participation in the prophetic spirit as well, although not so plainly here as it came to be in his later works.

In addition to the translator’s forward and notes, this edition includes an interpretive introduction by Friedrich Ulfers that highlights Nietzsche’s engagement with Heraclitus, tacit in this essay but explicit in Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. It also traces other important themes in the essay, any of which might be helpful to novice readers of Nietzsche.